Sunday, 7 April 2013

Uhuru counts on strong ties with regional leaders

PHOTO | FILE Uhuru Kenyatta with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at Brookside Dairy Ltd in 2008. Mr Kenyatta has forged strong relations with regional leaders that he will count on as Kenya’s fourth President. 
PHOTO | FILE Uhuru Kenyatta with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at Brookside Dairy Ltd in 2008. Mr Kenyatta has forged strong relations with regional leaders that he will count on as Kenya’s fourth President.  NATION MEDIA GROUP
Posted  Sunday, April 7   2013 at  23:30
When Uhuru Kenyatta begins work this week as Kenya’s fourth president, he will be counting on old and new friendships with other East African heads of state to help him navigate regional politics.
He can also count on his regional colleagues to shield him from any possible backlash from the international community over the charges he faces at the International Criminal Court.
Over the past week since the Supreme Court threw out a petition challenging Mr Kenyatta’s election, Western diplomats have struck a friendlier note, sending him congratulatory messages and calling on him and deputy president-elect William Ruto, who also faces ICC charges.
Out of the four regional leaders, Mr Kenyatta already enjoys friendly relations with Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi, all of whom are expected to attend his inauguration on Tuesday, April 9.
Mr Kenyatta is also expected to forge a friendship with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, whose attendance at the inauguration ceremony has also been confirmed.
“The positions Mr Kenyatta held in the Kenyan government did not bring them into much contact, but that is not to say there isn’t potential for affinity. They’re close in age and are both of modern thinking, so we see an affinity developing,” said an official of the Rwandan government.
It is also not lost on observers that Rwanda is not a signatory to the ICC and President Kagame has publicly denounced The Hague-based court.
The reported choice of President Museveni to make a speech on behalf of invited dignitaries at the inauguration ceremony is being read by analysts as having to do with more than the fact that he is the chairman of the East African Community.
The Ugandan leader is said to have been one of Mr Kenyatta’s strongest supporters in the run-up to the elections, when Western leaders were expressing reservations over his candidature.
President Museveni’s ties with Mr Kenyatta are said to go back a long way.
In October 2008, President Museveni toured Kenya and visited a milk plant owned by the Kenyatta family — Brookside Dairy Ltd, outside Nairobi. He extended an invitation to the Kenyatta sons to start a similar enterprise in Uganda and assured them of his support should they take up the idea. The Ugandan president also toured Gicheha Farm, another Kenyatta family enterprise.
A Ugandan newspaper, The Observer, on March 17 quoted President Museveni’s presidential press secretary Tamale Mirundi as saying that although Mr Kenyatta’s main challenger Raila Odinga’s visits to Kampala had been more visible and better publicised in the Ugandan media, Kenyatta had also been there.
Mirundi was quoted as saying, “Uhuru has investments (in Uganda)”.
It was also reported that prior to the Kenyan election, President Museveni met Kenyan leaders at his Kisozi country home — key among them being Mr Ruto.
Historical relations
President Museveni’s political adviser told The EastAfrican he was approached by the UK to distance himself from Mr Kenyatta because of the latter’s ICC case, but the rejected the idea, saying Britain only wanted to ostracise Mr Kenyatta because of his historical connections to Mau Mau. But he also stated that in any case, both Mr Odinga and Mr Kenyatta were East Africans and Museveni would not choose either.
This position was also stated by Uganda’s Foreign Minister Sam Kuteesa at a meeting in Bujumbura, according to a source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
However, a close associate of Mr Ruto in Kampala says their camp was “aware” that President Museveni all along supported Raila and even funded his political campaign. Which would suggest that Mr Kenyatta’s invitation to President Museveni is a sort of olive branch. In which case, Mr Museveni’s presence at Mr Kenyatta’s inauguration is due to his being the oldest EA leader, but not necessarily a sign of his support for the new presidency in Nairobi, a scenario that points to mutual discomfort between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Museveni, sources said.
With Tanzania’s President Kikwete, the friendship stretches back to Mr Kenyatta’s tenure as Kanu chairman. Sources in the country’s leadership hierarchy told The EastAfrican that Mr Kenyatta is viewed as the last “leader of former ruling party Kanu, which was in the past invited to CCM meetings as ‘Chama Rafiki’ (friendly party) and Mr Kenyatta represented the party at these meetings.”
This story was first published in this week’s The EastAfrican

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